Workplace Wellness Programs Are Falling Short

June 24, 2024
Kelly McNees

Giving lawyers a subscription to a wellness app doesn’t improve their mental health — especially if firms still expect them to work 80 hours a week. Yet some lawyers believe that if they use workplace mental health interventions and still feel stressed, it’s their fault.

A recent study of workplace wellness programs found that employees participating in them were no better off than colleagues who didn’t participate. Apps, coaching, relaxation classes, courses in time management — none had a positive effect on employee well-being.

The study confirmed, unsurprisingly, that working practices are key to positively affecting employee mental health. It seems obvious: When organizational practices propel burnout and stress, workplace wellness programs have little effect.

Yet firms provide these programs because it’s easier to offer up wellness apps and relaxation classes than to change the way work is organized. It doesn’t have to be this way.

We can switch our focus from making individuals resilient to mitigating burnout. Here are some tips for firms that are ready to get serious about improving employee well-being:

  1. Incorporate mental health days into the firm’s annual calendar. A separate study found this topped the list of preferred workplace well-being policies. Offering two or three company-wide mental health days per year gives employees an opportunity to completely disconnect from work.
  2. Treat mindfulness programs like professional development opportunities. Practicing mindfulness can have a positive effect when companies recognize mindfulness programs as a formal activity. Host one-on-one or group trainings, which are generally more effective than “light-touch” interventions like apps. Make sure leaders are involved to signal the firm’s commitment to wellness, and block out time on everyone’s calendar to give employees the availability to attend.
  3. Offer employees flexibility and control over their work schedule. This will look different for different firms, and it’s largely driven by client expectations. Consider how the firm can limit work outside of typical hours. If that’s not possible, start by reducing meeting fatigue by limiting the length or number of meetings individuals are in each day.
  4. Check out the Mindful Business Charter. Sign on with this group of law firms and organizations that are committed to ensuring that mindful business practices are embedded into their workplace. It aims to change avoidable working practices that can cause mental health and well-being issues for employees.

Stress and burnout have long been hallmarks of the legal profession. If you can influence your firm’s decision-makers, implementing these ideas can make a genuine impact and establish a more supportive work environment.